He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ (NRSV)
Jesus concludes his private conversation with the disciples and turns, while they still listen, to all who would dare to hear. His address is not for an elite few. An open invitation to all.
At its core there is nothing new. Jesus still speaks in terms of following and saving. His kingdom-of-God sketch is now, however, incorporating new, darker shades. He speaks of denial, loss, and a cross.
It will be difficult to juggle such terms into a catchy campaign slogan.
This is, however, the Jesus way. The logic employed reveals this following-through-the-cross as a good and wise option. His questions ask his listeners to consider for themselves: Where is the profit in gaining the world but forfeiting life? What would you trade in for life?
They are good questions.
On the other hand they sit awkwardly in the context of Jesus’ urging people to adopt the way of the cross. The cross was not originally a religious symbol. It implied Roman oppression, unbearable suffering, the permanence and decay of death. The cross reminded no one of the love, sacrifice, eternal life, and the victory of God. It was simply a tried and tested symbol of fear.
Jesus really is taking a risk. It is one thing to redefine the expectations of a Messiah. Now, however, he casts the role of his subjects in the same light: it is not simply Jesus who will suffer. He is asking the willing to come right along with him.
And then there’s all that talk of being ashamed. I wonder if Jesus responds here to a mood change. Perhaps he sees the shifting eyes, hear whispers of insanity, sees trusted friends turn their backs. It would not be so surprising.
After Jesus finishes this speech, there is silence for six days. Could it be chronic indigestion as people chew over, swallow, and digest all this?
Perhaps all who take these words seriously need also fall into a similar, weighty consideration.
The life Jesus offers is abundant, eternal and generous. But we follow the narrow – and trodden – way of the cross.